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August 2010 Graduation Address

President Raines, Provost Faudree, distinguished Guests, Graduating class 2010:

In my wildest dreams I could not imagine that one day I will stand before a graduating class in the United States to give the graduation speech. If somebody had told me at my own graduation ceremony at the Technical University of Budapest in 1971 or even more than 20 years later when I became a full professor at that school that I would stand in the FedEx forum to give the commencement address at the University of Memphis I would not believe them. Those days, I thought that things such as that only happened in the movies. Those days, I thought that Hollywood stories of success were not real and were told only because as long as we have dreams we do not have to face the daily realities. However, as you can see, I am here, and I want to tell you that sometimes even the wildest dreams become true. In my case, the fulfillment of these dreams required the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Hungary my native country, had to change to a democratic country. In those days, I did not know that all these global events might mean that, one day, I could speak to you on this day of celebration.

I am telling my story on this very special day of your life because I truly believe that you have everything you need to realize your dreams. Your education at this school provides you all the tools that you need. To support this statement let me share with you two stories that were told to me by my teachers because these stories influenced my own scientific carrier and personal life.

Erno Lindner
Dr. Ernö Lindner

I graduated from a five-year engineering college in Budapest. At my university, the lectures were given in big auditoriums and young faculty or graduate students conducted the group practices. During my five years, I hardly met some of the big name professors of our school. Therefore I was very excited when during my MS thesis work one of these famous professors stopped by my workbench and showed interest in my work and excitement about the results. Later he invited me to his office, suggested some readings and we discussed not only science but also history and literature. I was sometimes embarrassed because I felt that he knew all the answers to my questions. He could cite countless papers related to my work, which enhanced my lines of inquiry or questioned the validity of my assumptions. I felt that there was so much to learn that I would never be able to catch up and contribute something important. He might have felt that I became discouraged during our discussions, and one time he told me that almost all big discoveries that made really revolutionary changes were made by young scientists who dared to think differently. He told me that older professors are less likely to try completely new things because their thinking is chained to old doctrines and because they know how many of their famous colleagues had tried the same without success. On the other hand, he said, young scientists often see only the limitless possibilities, and they are very courageous. So, first study and learn from those who have come before you, but second, be courageous and believe in your own potentials.

The second story I want to share with you today came from my high school history teacher. It is about Albert Sweitzer the German/French humanitarian. Albert Sweitzer had a Ph.D. in theology. He was preaching in the church and served as a high-ranking official in his university. He was also an internationally recognized concert organist.  At age 30 he went to medical school because he wanted to establish amedical mission in Africa. After receiving his M.D. he founded his hospital at Lambaréné in French Equatorial Africa where he was a doctor, a pastor, an administrator of the village, and a superintendent of buildings. From donations all over the world and from his own resources from royalties and honorariums he expanded his hospital to a 500-patient clinic.   During his time in Africa, he and his wife were jailed as prisoners of war but never gave up. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952 and used his prize money to establish a hospital for the treatment of patients with leprosy at Lambaréné.

In one interview Albert Sweitzer was asked what guided him through his exemplary life in which he dedicated all of his gifts and talents for helping those who needed the most. In his answer he used the analogy of crossing a turbulent river by a boat to a person’s life. He told that we fill up our boat with heavy loads before departure and considered those loads our ideas when we are 18 years old: our compassion, empathy, commitment for truth and a love of life. However, as we get deeper and deeper in the water, each current tempts us and the turbulences become very scary. On the one hand the temptations can be fame, power, or money. On the other hand, our lives can be very scary when we lose our job, become sick or have to stand up for something that is unpopular. These are the times when we start to get rid of those original loads: we tend to give up some of our ideas from our youth. But Albert Schweitzer said, “life becomes harder for us when we live for others, but it also becomes richer and happier”. He explained, that he could preserve and find success because he stuck to the ideas he had as an eighteen years old.

This is what I wish to tell you also. You have the tools you need for success and you have wonderful ideas. Use your talent and hold on to your beautiful ideas. You will get the rewards from life.

Finally, let me add a small personal comment. In a few moments Dr. Faudree will ask our guests to hold back some their excitements so that everybody can hear when his or her name is read. I certainly agree with him, but at my graduation when my name was read four beautiful blond girls were cheering very loudly. Everybody looked at me and asked, who is this guy? They were my sisters. So when you are cheering for your sons, daughters, boyfriends, and girlfriends, it always brings back these wonderful memories. Have a good time. This is your day.

More from Commencement

View a slideshow View a slideshow of August 2010 Commencement
Video: watch Dr. Lindner's address to the graduates
Read Dr. Lindner's address to the graduates
View the Commencement Program

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